Two match officials from the Queensland Rugby League High Performance Unit will finish the 2023 Hostplus Cup season regular on a high, as the pair make their refereeing debuts this weekend.
Matthew Gannon (main image) and Lachlan Sutton both received the career-changing phone calls on Tuesday to let them know they would officiate one Cup game each in Round 22, stepping up from running the lines and from overseeing Hastings Deering Colts and A grade matches.
Gannon will take charge of the Mackay Cutters and Western Clydesdales clash in Mackay on Saturday, while Sutton will hold the whistle for the Norths Devils and PNG Hunters showdown at Bishop Park, also on Saturday.
The pair, who are both carpenters away from the field, had a similar reaction when they received their respective phone calls from state match officials manager Clayton Sharpe, and HPU coaches Andrew Wareham and Tim Rutherford.
“I found out Tuesday morning,” Gannon - who started refereeing at Souths Acacia Ridge as a child - said.
“It was a bit of a weird phone call... it wasn’t something I was expecting. They said they wanted to talk about my game which I was a bit nervous about and then they said I was making debut.
“I was in a bit of shock at first and didn’t know what to say. I thanked them and didn’t really know what to say.
“It wasn’t something I thought would happen this year. Everyone wants to debut and get that game but I was focusing on Colts footy and getting a spot throughout the finals. That was my focus.
“I ran a lot of Cup lines early on in the year and did a little bit of A grade in Brisbane and Ipswich, and then at the back end of the year I started getting a few more Colts games and have been alternating between Colts and A grade for the last few weeks.
“The goals this year were to just stay consistent and referee well.
“I got my Cup line debut at the end of last year so I wanted more touch lines and experience in this grade and to learn off the current referees and then stay consistent in Colts and A grade.”
Sutton echoed Gannon’s sentiments, with the Gympie product still lost for words over the appointment.
“Tim, A-Dub and Sharpie rang me and said, 'would you be available on Saturday to go down to Norths and referee?’,” Sutton said.
“I said, 'that’s fine', and then they said, ‘would be you happy to be (match official) No.73?’
“I was a bit lost for words. I couldn’t believe it was true.
“I honestly didn't think it would happen this year. I was hoping I would do a few Cup lines this year but I’ve been refereeing Colts and A grade and that was the last thing I was expecting this year.
“I was thinking maybe next year or early the following year.
“I think it’s going to be a good, physical game. Both sides - especially Norths with Jack (Ahearn) retiring this year and it being his last game - they’ll want to get the win and PNG are very competitive as well.”
Both officials have put in a lot of hard work and sacrifices to get to this point in their career, especially Sutton who lives on his family farm at Gympie.
This has seen him drive countless hours up and down the Bruce Highway, often leaving home at 2pm for training and not getting back until around 10pm.
But, as tough as those drives can be, he knows it’s been worth it.
“It’s a struggle, especially the long drives,” Sutton said.
“But I’m still really enjoying it.
“My debut… it means a lot. It’s really a dream come true. I’m still lost for words, I still can’t believe it actually.”
And in a nice twist, Sutton will have fellow Gympie export Bruce Schmidt as his match day coach on Saturday.
Gannon meanwhile is due to move to Cairns next year and knows that will require him to be more focused than ever before.
“It’s about staying disciplined in a smaller setting, not being in the bigger HPU group, and staying disciplined up there,” Gannon said.
But in the meantime, Gannon is going to savour his debut this weekend and prepare for the Colts finals ahead.
“I think it’s started to hit me but once I run out there, that’s when it will all sort of start to sink in,” he said.
“It means a lot just because of all the hard work and time that’s gone into it over the last 11 or so years I’ve been doing it.”